World’s largest randomized controlled trial of acupuncture in emergency departments finds it is a safe and effective alternative to pain-relieving drugs
The world’s largest randomized controlled trial of the use of acupuncture in emergency departments has found the treatment is a safe and effective alternative to pain-relieving drugs for some patients.
Led by RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, the study found acupuncture was as effective as pain medicine in providing long-term relief for patients who came to emergency in considerable pain.
Lead investigator Professor Marc Cohen, from RMIT’s School of Health and Biomedical Sciences, said pain was the most common reason people came to emergency, but was often inadequately managed. While acupuncture is widely used by practitioners in community settings for treating pain, it is rarely used in hospital emergency departments. Doctors need a variety of pain-relieving options, given the concerns around opioids such as morphine, which carry the risk of addiction when used long-term.
The study published in the Medical Journal of Australia and funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, involved 528 patients with acute low back pain, migraine or ankle sprains who presented at the emergency departments of the Alfred Hospital, Cabrini Malvern, Epworth Hospital and Northern Hospital between January 2010 and December 2011.
Patients who identified their level of pain as at least 4 on a 10-point scale randomly received one of three types of treatment: acupuncture alone, acupuncture plus pharmacotherapy or pharmacotherapy alone.
One hour after treatment, less than 40 percent of patients across all three groups felt significant pain reduction while more than 80 percent continued to have a pain rating of at least 4.
But 48 hours later, the majority found their treatment acceptable, with 82.8 percent of acupuncture-only patients saying they would definitely repeat their treatment, compared with 80.8 percent in the combined group, and 78.2 percent in the pharmacotherapy-only group.
The author said that some Australian emergency departments already offer acupuncture by trained staff but further studies are needed on ways to improve pain management and the potential role for acupuncture in this.